How one of the world’s fiercest fights for women’s rights was sparked in South Korea

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Feminism in South Korea is exploding.

The last few months have seen an unprecedented outpouring of anger and activism from women pushing back against Korea’s deeply patriarchal society with a sense of urgency and intensity unseen elsewhere in Asia.

The wave of activism in Korea coincides with the global rise of the #MeToo movement, and provided the fuel for the recent string of sexual harassment accusations that have brought down powerful politicians and artists there—starting with one woman’s testimony on live TV against a government official.

But long before #MeToo, women in Korean had already been mobilizing against an array of issues afflicting their daily lives. The watershed moment for South Korea’s women’s movements came in 2016 with the murder of a woman in a public bathroom near Gangnam subway exit, Seoul’s busiest subway station. In the aftermath, women took to the streets to protest gender-based violence and feminist groups stepped up their activism online.

That’s invited a backlash that is almost unparalleled in its ferocity. A woman seen to be supporting feminist causes could be putting herself at the mercy of vicious internet trolls, and in some cases, it could even cost her her job. Organizers behind a string of protests against hidden spy cameras in women’s bathrooms, for example, would not show their faces or give any information about their identities in an interview. Attendees at the protests also hid their faces.

Despite the blowback and the risks, Korea’s feminist moment has already lasted much longer than anyone thought possible. While #MeToo injected new life into the women’s movement this year, Korea is a good reminder that women there, and everywhere around the world, have long been fighting against injustices in their own countries.

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